Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Stuff to think about

An interesting passage from Rupert Sheldrake's 1988 book The Presence of the Past: Morphic Resonance and the Habits of Nature:
According to modern science, what first appeared in the Big Bang was light. Then as the universe grew the galaxies and stars were formed; then the solar system came into being; then as the earth cooled, the seas and the dry land were formed; then life arose in the primeval broth; then plants began to evolve; then animals, first in water and then on dry land; then birds and mammals evolved from reptiles; and finally Homo sapiens arose from apelike ancestors.
This sequence differs from the ancient story in the Book of Genesis in several respects, perhaps the most notable being the creation of the sun and moon after the earth and the vegetation upon it. In the scientific account, of course, the sun is supposed to have been formed before this planet, or at least around the same time. Opinions still differ as to the origin of the moon: some astronomers hold that it came into being together with the earth and the planets; others maintain that it originated later and may even have split off from the earth. Another difference is that Genesis places the origin of birds before the origin of reptiles, whereas evolutionary theory derives birds from reptiles.
Nevertheless, the broad outlines of the Genesis myth and the contemporary scientific account are not dissimilar; they have a strong family resemblance. The scientific account is of course far more detailed, and attributes creativity to chance rather than to God. But both, by their very nature as accounts of origins, refer to events that happened before there were people to witness them and can therefore only be imagined, calculated, inferred, or modelled. They can never be statements of observable or observed facts.

This is where the book gets really good. I don't think he lumps the scientific account together with the Biblical tale, but he does point out that they come from the same source, ultimately, and serve much of the same person. Convergent evolution among animals is a decently well known process. Could another kind of convergent evolution affect ideas? If not, why not?

I understand that Sheldrake has something of a crackpot reputation, and some of the more  out there scientific ideas do read more like science fiction. But he's an engaging philosophical writer in a number of passages.


susan said...

If there were more scientists like Rupert Sheldrake the world might be a better place. The materialistic paradigm that dominates western science and thinking, humanity’s supposed “conquest of nature,” is a military metaphor that defines humanity as Earth’s enemy. This is an odd way to understand our relationship with the natural systems that sustain our lives. That Sheldrake is willing to examine and embrace a more holistic view is comforting news in what can appear to be a very cold and mechanistic world.

A few years ago I was very entertained by his research regarding 'dogs that know when their owners are coming home', which provides pretty convincing evidence of animal telepathy, though whether this has anything to do with morphic fields is an open question. Dogs just seem to really like us - which is a (happy) mystery.

Ben said...

Indeed our conquest of nature hasn't really worked that well for us, to say nothing of nature. It sometimes seems like we have a pretty grim future planned for ourselves.

Dogs present a lot of mysteries. They're the domesticated descendants of wolves, but wolves seem to be hard to tame and about impossible to domesticate. So maybe there was a strain that was particularly open to human influence. That might account for the telepathy-like effects.